I remember years ago when I believed I was the only Christian kid on earth who experienced unwanted same-sex attractions. I certainly never thought I’d one day be writing sentences like those in the past tense.
An optimistic, adventurous kid who liked to facilitate role-play during recess, I felt valued for my imagination and welcome as a member of my peer group in elementary school. I felt confident and made friends easily back then. But as I grew older and began comparing myself to others, I felt increasingly different.
I particularly measured myself against my male peers who were taller and stronger, developing deeper voices, and taking up different interests than me. As my peers started highlighting these differences during puberty, I sunk into perfectionism, shame, and envy.
In response to my newly developed habit of comparing myself to others, I allowed others to assert authority over my own identity as my confidence and perceived value within my peer group devolved into insecurity.
Through redemptive life experiences as an adult and years of personal therapy, I have overcome clinical depression, processed relationship traumas, and discovered what it feels like to be at a decent place of emotional, spiritual, and mental health.
When I view the distance formed between my position then and now — a deceptive high-speed time-lapse — I feel a deep sense of gratitude, joy, and accomplishment.
It admittedly came with tremendous growth pains, but I’ve learned so much about the power of emotional vulnerability, the importance of healthy boundaries, the restorative effects of connectedness and group membership, and so much more.
I like growth for all the obvious reasons, and moving forward and bettering myself have always been among my top priorities. But as much as I’ve grown throughout life, it’s always been difficult for me to remember that growth also equals change, which is rarely (if ever) comfortable.
In fact, sometimes personal growth can be detrimental to our relationships.
At least for a little while.
One of my counseling professors warned our class about the potential ramifications of an individual’s growth within relationships. He related the experience to being anchored to a partner with a tether during rock climbing. If one were to climb faster than the other (or lag behind), the tension created between the two could be dangerous.
The illustration was intended to help us understand the importance of acknowledging where we are in relation to others so we can make the necessary adjustments to our expectations within our relationships.
When we’re not aware we’re climbing at a different pace than others, the distance can confuse and isolate us. We could even end up severing our source of connection.
When I discovered the initial community that provided the groundwork for Your Other Brothers, I felt a sense of shared understanding among other men regarding my life story.
This community provided a brand new framework for me to quickly build an authentic support system. Feeling a sense of belonging with other men was something I’d desperately longed for but never thought I’d actually experience.
More than a dozen men in this community have given me the gift of genuine friendship, helping me find the strength I needed to rise up and stop looking apprehensively at the mountains in front of me.
Ascending life’s crags became increasingly easier as I became tethered to more supportive relationships with these new brothers.
With such a supportive foundation, I felt safe enough and strong enough to push myself harder than ever toward personal growth. In the past few years, I’ve grown emotionally and spiritually more than I ever have my whole life.
The growth pains have been excruciating, but I’ve also opened myself up to some of the most meaningful moments of my life, some of the most endearing friendships, and many new insights into my life purpose.
But somewhere on the precipice, I stopped climbing up to look around. In my zealous pursuit of personal growth, I had forgotten my professor’s warning.
After I finished my master’s program this year, I felt as if I’d woken up from a three-year coma.
I realized that graduate school, as enriching and restorative as it was, had consumed so much of me that I’d failed to maintain other areas of my life.
That neglect extended to this community, also.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts and emotions that had been dammed up for years. I began to notice how distant I’d grown from my support systems.
After I finished my recent academic marathon, I started considering new goals for my life. I wrote down items such as: get a master’s level job, join the worship team at church, start writing music again, blog more consistently, etc.
My checklist perplexed me as I noticed something missing from the list.
I left out goals related to my experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA). After I realized this, I dove into intense reflection. Did I simply forget? Surely I needed to add a goal or two related to SSA, right?
I always do that.
But, strangely enough, I felt content with how far I’d come for once.
I’ve sat down countless times to write more blog posts, yet I’ve recently been at a total loss for words. I’ve also noticed a new tendency of mine to withdraw from any SSA-related groups or discussions.
Initially, I wondered if I still belonged to this community.
After informally withdrawing for some time to reflect on this situation and open up to others, I realized the issue wasn’t a question of my group membership. After approaching the topic of SSA from the same perspectives the past few years, I’ve simply gotten jaded.
The more I’ve grown, the more I’ve found myself wanting to redesign the space in which I’ve been interacting with my same-sex attraction.
In other words, I want to create healthy boundaries around my interactions with SSA.
Just as I’d given other kids the authority to speak into my identity when I was younger, I’ve been realizing how much authority I’ve given single parts of myself (including SSA) to speak into my whole identity.
It’s time for me to take back authority over my own identity.
I love the authors of YOB, and I’m passionate about this collective’s mission. I think it’s critical that we share our stories and offer a place to belong especially for those without a band of brothers.
I cannot imagine life without you guys.
I finally arrived at a place where I’d become used to sharing my story of same-sex attraction with new friends. In fact, I arrived at a place where I no longer needed to share my story of same-sex attraction to feel known by new friends.
I used to believe I could only earn the gift of being truly understood by sharing my story of same-sex attraction.
Ironically, now that I feel more courageous about sharing my story, I’ve lost the sense of urgency I’ve historically felt about revealing my SSA as an attempt to break a bonding wall in relationships.
To clarify, I’m certainly not planning to stop sharing my story of same-sex attraction with others, and I’m not planning to withdraw from my SSA-related communities.
However, I am noticing that SSA is becoming less and less of a prevalent focus in my life. My attractions actually make up only a small percent of my whole experience as a human being.
Again, my desire is simply to create healthy boundaries around the amount of time and attention I allot to SSA-related reflection and discussion.
I’m still learning what this perspective shift means for my role in YOB, in my friendships, and elsewhere.
It’s scary and exciting at the same time, and I need this community more than ever. You all have been a pivotal part of my support system for years.
I’m asking for your continued support as I make adjustments to my boundaries and strive to finally reclaim authority over my identity.
How have you allowed others to assert authority over your identity? Have you experienced any challenges in your relationships due to your own personal growth or the growth in others?